Address by the Rt Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon to the gathering of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa in Kigali
I am beginning my second year as the Anglican Communion’s secretary general. I spent much of my first year in post travelling far and wide, seeing the Communion at firsthand, listening to our global family. I learned a lot. I can tell you there is much to praise the Lord for.
Let me tell you of three trips I have made in the past month. I had the pleasure and privilege to visit our brothers and sisters in Sudan and to see their desire to become a separate province.
Their spirituality was infectious, their enthusiasm and commitment to faith so positive. And I was so encouraged by their attitude to their Muslim neighbours.
In Canada, at the Synod, I experienced the joy of the warmest of welcomes. It was not an easy meeting. There was the pain of division but there was a sense of friendship, of family.
Prior to that, I attended the enthronement of our new Primate in Kenya, Archbishop Jackson [Ole Sapit]. It was another joyful occasion of great hope. His charge that day was inspirational, a heartfelt call for the kingdom of God to come. I was excited to hear of his plans for mission and his desire for social transformation. I was excited because that is my heart too, and it is the heart of my team working at the Anglican Communion Office.
The ACO Team
When I began in post, I was quickly struck by the immense range of work undertaken by the ACO. Some are with us.
John Kafwanka is our director for mission. He has just been to youth conferences in the West Indies and Malaysia, seeing the passion for Jesus Christ in the rising generation. His work aims to enrich global mission by fostering greater collaboration, sharing of good practice and excellent resources. One particularly key area is discipleship, which was of course the theme of ACC-16, which I will return to in a moment.
Our Director for Unity, Faith, and Order is John Gibaut. This has been a particularly significant time for “UFO,” which oversees the ecumenical relationships between the Anglican Communion and our partner churches at the global level.
Included in its work on Christian unity are questions about Anglican unity and the nature of our communion. The chair of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith, and Order (IASCUFO) is Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the outgoing Primate of Burundi. I had the great pleasure of attending last year’s meeting of IASCUFO, which took place on the Cape Coast of Ghana, in the Province of West Africa.
Terrie Robinson is our director for women in church and society, a passionate champion of a worthy cause. The Anglican church has a unique role to play in righting the terrible wrong of unjust relationships between men and women, of abuse, of violence. The victims are mothers, sisters, daughters. Terrie knows changing attitudes is hard, but the Anglican Communion is responding.
Part of the ACO’s work is advocacy at the highest levels. Our representative at the United Nations is Flora Winfield. Recently her role has taken her to the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey, where I know she worked alongside Archbishop Albert Chama and Canon Grace Kaiso, among others, and helped produce four key areas for Anglican action.
Our world faces a growing number of humanitarian crises. Many of you experience them firsthand. Flora would tell you that many international agencies are creaking under the strain of tackling them, but Anglicans are providing an outstanding response on the front line.
It is small wonder that, according to the World Bank, the Anglican Communion is the NGO most trusted by the poor.
The Communion’s development, relief, and advocacy agency, the Anglican Alliance, is also based at the ACO. Its co-director, Rachel Carnegie, is with us. She would echo Flora’s account of how Anglicans are making a vital difference on the ground. For instance, she was recently in Tanzania, and heard how Anglicans there have responded with loving generosity to the refugees pouring in from Burundi, giving them not just sanctuary but food, clothing, and pastoral care.
And we have a new director for communications in post: Adrian Butcher. He had very much hoped to be here, but sadly it was not possible. His ambition is to tell these and other stories from around the Communion about lives and communities transformed by the gospel, to encourage us and to stimulate prayer.
So the work of the ACO staff spans many areas: mission, theology, ecclesiology, ecumenism, gender issues, relief and development. But we are not working in a vacuum: we exist to carry out the wishes of the Instruments of the Communion.
We supported the Primates’ Meeting and Gathering in Canterbury in January. And we served the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka in April. The ACC passed 45 resolutions which express the mind and heart of Communion across a diverse range of issues. I urge you to read them, to see the breadth of the Communion’s ambition. For the ACO, our task now is to see those statements come to fruition.
And so I come to you as leader of this team, which seeks to represent and be the servant of the whole Communion. I am called to coordinate resources to support the work of Anglican provinces. We are there to serve you.
You are the majority of the Anglican Communion. You have resources of skills and experience in Christian discipleship and witness in challenging contexts to share with the whole Communion. Please do challenge and shape the work of the Communion Office to enable us to serve you and your ministries in the best way possible.
Focus on CAPA
Let me focus more now on the incredible, diverse, beautiful, and challenging continent that we call home — Africa. In my first year in office, I have come to appreciate in a new way the important and central position that our African Anglican churches occupy on the world stage.
We are the one organization throughout Africa which is trusted to deliver on projects.
Through our work, we are the source of the gospel, of education, of democracy, of civil society and political parties, and of the reduction of maternal and child mortality on our continent.
These were not imports from outside. These resulted from the work of our African grandfathers and grandmothers in the faith. They were the village evangelists, and catechists, and schoolteachers, and nurses and farmers and labourers and parents who brought to our continent the living Word of God, Jesus, through the written Word of God, the Bible, in the power of the Spirit. It was Bible-believing Christians who have transformed the face of Africa in the last 150 years, and we can transform it again.
This is the truth. But this is in sharp contrast with how we are represented by others who do not have our best interests at heart. They present us as being 50 years behind the rest of the world. Their view of progressivism places them at the forefront of historical and social development — with us Africans bringing up the rear.
Even worse, deep down, they think that all of us, whatever our faith and commitments, have our price. They really believe that it will only be a matter of time before we fall in line with their view of the world, of culture, of marriage, of community either through conviction or, if not, then through convenience.
But I want to suggest to you — our fathers in the faith — that you can change this view by determining to focus on securing the development of the poorest and most left behind in our societies.
Our African churches can never be social progressives in the sense beloved of the West. We will never allow our churches to be taken over by views and programmes which suggest that the Bible is wrong. We will not crumble or bow the knee to a godless secular culture that despises the Bible and what it teaches.
Actually, our African churches are already progressives. We are seeking to live our lives in accordance with the will of God in the kingdom of God, which is the real future for humanity that measures all human progress. And that kingdom is marked here on earth by the priority it gives to the poor in the ministry of the gospel and the concerns of the people of God.
We will never allow ourselves, or our identity, or our churches, to be defined by the pride of those who see us as lagging behind them in our economies, our politics, our communities, our families, and our theology.
I have to confess to you that I am deeply disturbed by some of what is happening in the Communion and its churches today. I have seen Anglicans who are poor and marginalized in their own societies plead for their right to maintain Anglican orthodoxy in their own churches, only to be swept aside by a campaign to change the churches’ teaching on marriage and so-called rights of equality. This is something I take to the Lord in prayer again and again. So as we meet, what can CAPA offer the African Anglican churches today?
The Real Challenges
May I humbly put forward what are the real challenges that the church in Africa faces? I wonder if you agree. You may have others to suggest.
How can we release resources for enterprise solutions to poverty? Facilitating a water production plant here; pioneering employment for families devastated by HIV/AIDS there; instituting banking for the poor so that they can have access to further economic resources for their own development?
How can we build a new generation of leaders in a country like South Sudan? This is an agenda for CAPA to respond to. It was CAPA who called in 2008 for a response to the newly liberated country of South Sudan and sent a delegation to consult with Archbishop [Daniel Deng Bul] and his colleagues. This led directly to the founding of Manna-Microfinance by the Diocese of Juba, the most successful small business loan service in the country to date.
How can we overcome the impact of tribalism in our nations and our churches? You will have experienced this problem over and over again, with each tribe wanting its own diocese and its own bishop far beyond the realistic resources of the people of God to sustain this wish.
What does it mean to be a citizen of our nations? What does citizenship involve?
Should we promote a religious or accept a secular basis for our multifaith nations to ensure their cohesion and prosperity?
How can we prepare and protect our churches and our nations in the face of militant Islam? It is hitting the Middle East and Europe at the moment. It has already hit hard in Nigeria and parts of East Africa.
Can we help our people and our politicians understand what is really going on, draw on the resources of Christian faith and our communities to address it, and face it down? Not in the name of defeating anyone, but in the name of preserving communities of God’s faithful people to hold forth the word of life and the good works of the gospel.
Very few of our provinces have the skills, resources, or networks to address these problems. And so we tend to leave these problems to others. We then become totally embroiled in the agendas of other people in the Communion, which, while important, are not central to the life of our churches or our nations. Yes, it is important that we maintain our faithful witness to the truth of the Scriptures and the churches’ teaching on marriage as set out in Lambeth 1.10. That will never change. But our churches are called to do far more than that.
May I suggest that CAPA should give a lead in embracing these challenges with practical responses, with on-the-ground action to empower and enable our people?
Many friends and supporters in Anglican and other churches, and in international agencies, are waiting to engage with churches that are committed to the goals of sustainable development.
There is no lack of money for work that genuinely helps people gain a better life for themselves and their children through inspiring and enabling their own enterprise and ethical commitment.
It would be very helpful if there could be a coordinating body to which those international organisations and churches, which want to engage with African Anglican churches, could relate. This body could act together with member churches to build partnership links of integrity which can be trusted channels of resources and skills that our people need to fulfil their calling to love their neighbours in practical ways. This body could be a port of call for those individuals and organisations, churches, parishes, and denominations that want to fulfil their calling to use their gifts with the Churches of Africa to serve its people.
This is where the position God has put me in as an African Anglican in the Anglican Communion Office really comes in. My office in ACO can introduce you to such agencies and churches, and we can assist with ensuring delivery with integrity.
I will, of course, listen with great attention to your discussions. But I want to spend most of my time with you here getting your responses to these challenges and suggestions and planning with you how you can work with your bishops to respond to the aspirations of your people and to their expectations of what God can do with them, for them, and through them in his service.
So, as I close, allow me to make three concrete suggestions for the way forward.
I believe CAPA should focus on these initiatives:
- Facilitating the Anglican Provinces of Africa so they can engage with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. This should be facilitated by the Anglican Alliance, and there is every possibility that such partnership, backed by the [Anglican Consultative Council], would get adequate financial support from state and private sources.
- Equipping the Provinces to understand and respond effectively to the challenge of Islam. A small committee should be tasked with developing a programme that supports and builds provincial initiatives. I would suggest that the Barnabas Fund and PROCMURA could and should be asked to assist with this programme.
- Educating: Producing a programme of education and training in citizenship that will deal with the issues of tribal conflict, tribal belonging, and identity as citizens.
I look forward to meeting and talking to as many of you as possible.
May God truly bless your discussions and our time together to the glory of his name and the honour of his Son, Jesus Christ.